Once again, I’m learning of some cool work being done by here at UW. Today’s Seattle Times (which my family still subscribes to in print form, just for the sheer Ludditeness of it) contains an article entitled “Inflexible Security? Lighten Up” by technology columnist Brier Dudley. The piece describes Friendbo, an access-control system being developed by students and professors at the U. Thanks to a technology transfer grant, Ph.D candidate Michael Toomin has taken Friendbo from a classroom project to a company set to soon release a Facebook app.
Friendbo seeks the middle ground between strict security models using set password control, and wide open access. Most online sharing that real people do hardly needs to be locked down with access restricted only to people we authorize on an individual basis, yet many of us aren’t really comfortable letting just anyone see everything we post. Friendbo approaches the problem with “safe boxes” which can be accessed by answering a prompt question with an answer that would only be known to people the poster wants to share the content with.
Let’s say you upload pictures of a family reunion to a photo album in a safe box. You could set the prompt question to “What did we have for lunch at the reunion?” and anyone who was there for the meal should be able to answer. If someone legitimately doesn’t know the answer — they came late and missed lunch, for example — they can ask anyone in the social group, who are all capable of verifying who should and shouldn’t have access for themselves.
In concept, I think Friendbo is a perfect fit for social media. For example, my Facebook page contains nothing I’m trying to hide, yet I’ve on occasion failed to confirm friend requests for several weeks just because they slipped my mind. I would have little trouble opening it up to anyone who knew some very basic information about me, as long as I also had the option of then blocking anyone who made it through the Friendbo test, but who I didn’t necessarily want to rekindle a connection with for whatever reason.
I’m looking forward to the release of the first app. Too bad the phrase “social security” has been taken, because that’s really what this is.